By Jennifer Clinehens, Founder & MD

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How Choice Hacking & Perci transformed disaster preparedness from a chore to a calling

How do you change an ingrained customer behavior when their life literally depends on it?

This is a story about transforming attitudes from “It’ll never happen to me” to “I’m ready for anything” using psychology and behavioral science.

 You see, 84% of Americans live in areas that have experienced some form of a natural disaster in the past three years, but 71% don’t have an emergency plan.

But why?

When we see natural disasters on the news, our hearts are moved:

✅ We donate money, supplies, and clothing
✅ We send thoughts and prayers to those affected
✅ We think how terrible it must feel to suddenly lose your home

But when it comes to preparing ourselves and our families for the day natural disaster strikes…

❌ We aren’t motivated to prepare because 99% of the time there’s no urgency
❌ We don’t have an emotional connection to our future selves so the stakes feel low
❌ We don’t know where to start so we don’t do anything at all

That’s why Perci, a US-based disaster preparedness app, came to Choice Hacking for help.

They wanted to change ingrained default behaviors to get people better prepared for natural disasters like hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes and tornados.

We used behavioral science and psychology to create a UX strategy that tackled the tactical and emotional sides of disaster preparedness.

A science-led approach that uncovered incredible insight

We approached this challenge with a three-step strategy:

1. Discover: 
  • Literature review and desk research
  • User interviews
  • Salience analysis of proof of concept 

2. Define: 
  • Customer journey map creation
  • Behavioral barriers and drivers definition
  • Target behavior definition

3. Design & Test
  • Proposed interventions
  • Proposed testing roadmap
  • Principles and actionable tactics to get started

// Discover

We started by gathering information to help us create behavioral hypothesis, target behaviors, and document behavioral and psychological barriers. 


The Choice Hacking team performed desk research and a literature review of behavioral science principles that’d proven the most effective in disaster preparedness behavior change. We then performed a salience analysis using predictive AI to understand how Perci’s current proof of concept was performing (what was catching people’s attention and not). Last we got to work with customer interviews.


We talked to several folks who had lived through real-life disasters about what they wish they had known, what they experienced, and why they weren’t prepared for it to happen again.


The most impactful moment was talking to a woman who had failed to create a go bag when her family home was threatened in the Colorado wildfires. She only had time to grab her kids and pets when the fire finally destroyed her home.


That night in the hotel, her young daughter started to cry because her favorite stuffed animal was lost in the fire. It was a moment this mother - and the team - would never forget. This experience made her deeply regret not being more prepared to evacuate and helped us understand the emotional drivers of disaster preparedness. 


We approached this challenge with a three-step strategy:

1. Discover: 
  • Literature review and desk research
  • User interviews
  • Salience analysis of proof of concept 

2. Define: 
  • Customer journey map creation
  • Behavioral barriers and drivers definition
  • Target behavior definition

3. Design & Test
  • Proposed interventions
  • Proposed testing roadmap
  • Principles and actionable tactics to get started

// Discover

We started by gathering information to help us create behavioral hypothesis, target behaviors, and document behavioral and psychological barriers. 


The Choice Hacking team performed desk research and a literature review of behavioral science principles that’d proven the most effective in disaster preparedness behavior change. We then performed a salience analysis using predictive AI to understand how Perci’s current proof of concept was performing (what was catching people’s attention and not). Last we got to work with customer interviews.


We talked to several folks who had lived through real-life disasters about what they wish they had known, what they experienced, and why they weren’t prepared for it to happen again.


The most impactful moment was talking to a woman who had failed to create a go bag when her family home was threatened in the Colorado wildfires. She only had time to grab her kids and pets when the fire finally destroyed her home.


That night in the hotel, her young daughter started to cry because her favorite stuffed animal was lost in the fire. It was a moment this mother - and the team - would never forget. This experience made her deeply regret not being more prepared to evacuate and helped us understand the emotional drivers of disaster preparedness. 


// Define

In the course of our work, we discovered that while this was a disaster preparedness challenge on the surface, our users’ REAL barrier to adoption was a lack of urgency and emotion in the process.


Users felt like they'd never actually be a victim of a natural disaster (even if, as some users had, they'd lived through a disaster that destroyed their home or community), and that getting prepared was a whole lot of annoyance for nothing.


We had to find a way to get users performing an arduous task with little perceived payoff, using only an app.


By creating a customer journey map and defining behavioral barriers, psychological blockers, and target behaviors, we were able to create a science-based UX strategy using:

  • ✅ Gamification that transformed how users saw themselves and their role in the community
  • ✅ Rewards-based motivation and path-based learning to drive education and engagement
  • ✅ Emotional user experience elements to help users better connect with their future selves
  • ✅ Timing-based prompts to help make document-gathering easy
How working with Choice Hacking transformed Perci


1. From a thankless task to a part of users’ identity
Disaster preparedness can feel like a lot of work without much payoff. In our customer research, we found that even if people had lived through a natural disaster - like a fire - where they had lost their homes and all their possessions, they still weren’t taking steps to prepare. To transform this attitude, we turned to behavioral science:

We began using language that connected emotions to tasks - providing a psychological reward for taking on the role of “defender” and creating a “circle of trust” to motivate users.

2. From winging a response to executing a fool-proof plan
Due to demands on first responders and local conditions 90% of rescues in major disasters are performed by family and neighbors.

Our gamified and behavioral science-led approach helps users go from helpless to disaster-aware through education. Not only preparing them to help their family and neighbors when the time comes, but by helping them empower those around them to get educated and prepared as well.  

3. Transforming the mechanics of prep from a pain to a no-brainer
There are two main preparedness actions that every user needed to take: 
  • Gather important documents like passports, driver licensees, mortgage documents, and credit cards 
  • Packing a go-bag and keeping it stocked
To make these actions easier to perform, we found other calendar moments where these documents would be out and being used. For example, tax season (April) emerged as both a time that documents would be out - not by choice - and a good time of year to remind users that disasters could strike (in the US April is just before tornado season). 

This is called behavior bundling and it can make difficult behaviors easier to remember and perform by removing friction and the need for motivation. 

To address the go-bag issue, an innovative solution was needed. The Perci vest was developed as an easy-to use alternative to a go-bag and earned both a Gold and Bronze IDA design award in 2022. Choice Hacking's insights and recommendations help inform the concept and use cases for the vest. 

Does this sound like a challenge you're facing right now?
If you want to design a customer experience that grows your business, schedule your free 30-minute consultation. 

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